Organisations are challenged with information overload and the draw of comfortable home viewing.
Can embracing technology lead to increased physical attendance and engagement and broaden a fan base?
Does connecting with fans in a memorable offline experience transfer to online communities?
For centuries fans have flocked to coliseums to watch their favourite sport or most admired athlete in action. They travel from far and wide in part for entertainment value and to be privy to the latest information, but also for the live experience — “I was there”. Whilst the needs of fans has remained the same through the evolution of live sport, recently there has been a shift in how information is consumed and experienced. Increasingly technology means that fans are able to fulfil their desire for information in ways that far exceed the physical experience. With the quality of the virtual sport experience improving the idea of spending hundreds of pounds to say “I was there”, perching on uncomfortable seats for the duration of the game, and queuing for hours just to go to the bathroom is incomprehensible to fans. As a result, since 2015 MLB attendance has dropped 7.14% which equates to a loss of 5,265,268 fans who are no longer purchasing tickets and attending games.  NCAA FBS has been hit hard. In 2017 attendance dropped by 3% — the largest per-game attendance drop for 34 years and the second largest decrease ever, which has led to four straight years of decline. 
Technological advancements mean that fans can now watch live sport from the comfort of their own home with benefits not available to those fans watching the game in the stadium. Home viewers can pause the game or make it mobile, taking it with them as they move about. What’s more, fans at home have access to real time data that fans in the stadium potentially can’t access due to poor wifi connections. As a sports fan it’s likely you’ll want to watch multiple games or sports that overlap. From the comfort of home you can watch sport on multiple screens so you don’t miss any of the action, you can flick between games and access real-time data with the touch of a button.
So what draws us to live sport? How do organisations deliver an exceptional experience that fans are desperate to share with friends, family, or colleagues and relive time and again? How do we develop an experience designed to be shared, to illicit fan generated content and FOMO (fear of missing out) amongst digital communities? Fans are using social media and smart phones to talk about sport, receive the latest updates, and share the experience. More than ever fans are measuring how interesting a person is by their sporting experiences and the Instagramability of a moment.
At its core sport is entertainment, but with audience requirements rapidly changing organisations are struggling to keep up. Going to watch live sport has to be benchmarked against day out experiences, not simply the time between whistles. For a family of four to attend an NFL game the cost is roughly $820.56 — a significant portion of the average households disposable income. The cost means that fans are expecting exceptional experiences when attending these events, and the family member holding the purse strings will often be considering how to provide the whole family with a worthwhile experience.
So what does this mean for sports professionals and the future of live sporting events? Viewing this through a COVID-19 lens we are challenged not only with the above changes in consumer behaviour but a heightened concern for safety and security. In many ways, this gives organisations a reset button. A chance to re-evaluate. We have to combine the technological advances and digital integration present in many lives with the physical environment to deliver an entirely unique experience. We are now seeing organisations embracing the technology and data required to deliver personalised, integrated experiences that make fans feel valued and actively encourage them to participate in the event, providing them with exclusive offers and experiences that make the stadium superior to the sofa.
“We see fans living through their phones and this is the constant touchpoint in the customer journey. We need to ensure that infrastructure in stadiums supports this medium so that marketers, event organisers, and operations can utilise this amazing communication channel.” – Graham Clay, Director of Events and Activation at Global13
Technology is being used in ways we had never imagined. Far gone are the days when pundits would call a seat number and row to award an exclusive prize to a randomly selected fan. “When smart phones and social media came to the forefront we ran interactive selfie selector competitions but even five years ago the infrastructure in stadium was behind. The Wifi in Wembley meant competitions like this were subject to technical issues.” says Graham Clay. Sports organisations are now embracing technology and building infrastructure to support it. An example of this is the San Jose Earthquakes who, together with stadium sponsor Avaya, created a “fan engagement wall”, a permanently installed digitally interactive screen that displays fans’ social media posts and statistics throughout the game. Data infrastructure is extremely important for enabling fan and brand engagement, but the next advancements in delivering exceptional experiences require far more than providing a strong Wifi signal.
In order to provide an experience that is expected the tech infrastructure needs to be in place. To deliver an exceptional experience that exceeds fan expectations organisations are having to embrace technology that supports collaboration with partners, allowing them to build on top of the technology and sport infrastructure of the stadium. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are allowing developers to build apps and other solutions using stadium information such as game/event schedules, seating maps, amenities locations, and ticket prices. Identity management tools are being built to give each fan a unified credential for use in every transaction and touchpoint including arena entry, and the purchase of tickets, concessions, and merchandise. Social listening is giving teams and venues the immediate “voice of the fan” regarding the stadium experience and any operational problems that may arise, allowing immediate resolution.
Delivering Exceptional Experiences
At Global13 we are huge Disney fans, and although not a stadium Disney World represents a superstructure designed to deliver exceptional experience. Anyone who has visited knows that the CX mapping at Disney is incredible. To make the experience seamless they have even introduced RFID enabled “MagicBands” which replace hotel room keys, fast passes, and park access cards. They also replace the need for visitors to carry a wallet through the theme park as they have the ability to hold guest credit card details. This customer-centric approach also provides a holistic view of the guest so the service can be tailored, providing Disney with an even better picture of the customer journey.
Like stadiums across the world, the US Bank Stadium uses technology to enable fans to check up-to-the-minute statuses on the least crowded bathrooms and concessions. Using location data they are even provided information on traffic conditions and parking alerts that direct fans to the least congested stadium entrances and exits as well.
The experience starts and ends with the customer. The customer experience occurs through every channel of communication and interaction with a brand, be that through social media or the fan zone. As organisations, we have the opportunity to be smarter and deliver an integrated user experience which enables community engagement, delights fans, and empowers them to be present at games. This unique combination of the built environment and digital-led personalisation is going to truly redefine the entertainment industry and the world of sport.
If you would like to discuss the opportunities and implications of community engagement and smart connected devices, get in touch.